10 Facts About Diego Rivera

The founder of the Mexican Mural Movement left his mark across the Americas

By Google Arts & Culture

Diego Rivera and his daughter Guadalupe Rivera Marín (1927) by UnknownMuseo Frida Kahlo

1. An early muralist

It's said he started his career young, at the age of three, a year after his twin brother died. His parents once caught him drawing on the house, and so installed chalkboards and canvas on the walls to encourage his artistic inclement.

Slaugterhouse (1915) by Diego RiveraMuseo Dolores Olmedo

2. Avant-garde and Old Masters

From the age of ten, Rivera studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. In 1907, at 21, he travelled to Europe, continuing his studies in Madrid and Paris, where he took up the new Cubist style of painting with great enthusiasm.

The Grinder (1924) by Diego RiveraMuseo Nacional de Arte

3. Renaissance and revolution

His interest in murals was sparked by a trip to Italy in 1920, where he studied Renaissance frescoes. He soon returned to Mexico, and became involved in the official government mural programme dedicated to the 1910 Revolution, as well as joining the Mexican Communist Party.

The Family (1934) by Diego RiveraMuseo Dolores Olmedo

4. Folk Art and Folk Tales

His style of large, flattened surfaces and simple colours developed from his study of Mexican folk art and pre-hispanic cultures. Like the monuments of the Maya, Rivera sought to tell stories and set examples through his public art.

Frida and Diego with their pet monkey "Caimito del Guayabal" (1943) by Autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

5. Five Wives

Rivera had numerous marriages, affairs, and children. His first child and only son died at the age of two. His fourth wife was fellow Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, with whom he had a volatile relationship that continued until her death. In 1955 he married his former agent.

Diego Rivera with a xoloitzcuintle dog in the Blue House, Coyoacan by UnknownMuseo Frida Kahlo

6. Man's best friend

Rivera and Kahlo were very fond of dogs. They kept a number of hairless Mexican Xoloitzcuintle dogs at their house. Rivera's large murals depicting the history of Mexico in the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City feature numerous Xolos.

Arriving of Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova (1937/1937) by Mayo BrothersArchivo General de la Nación - México

7. He hosted Trotsky in exile

Rivera was a dedicated Marxist and joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1922, but was expelled as a subversive in 1929. When the former Soviet leader Trotsky was forced into exile, Rivera and Kahlo petitioned the Mexican government to be allowed to host him as their guest.

8. Diego Rivera Theater, California, USA

In 1929 American journalist Ernestine Evans published a book on Rivera's murals. This led to many more commissions. In 1930 he completed a fresco for the California School of Fine Art, later relocated to what is now the Diego Rivera Gallery at the San Francisco Art Institute

Photograph of Diego and Frida taken by their friend Lucienne when the last panel of the fresco at the New Workers School in New York was finished (3 de diciembre de 1933) by Lucienne BlochMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

9. Politics and patrons don't mix

In 1933 a mural was commissioned for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center. Rivera painted an enormous dedication to Marxism-Leninism, which perhaps unsurprisingly didn't sit well with J.D. Rockefeller Jr. The mural was taken down, but Rivera remade it in Mexico City.

10. Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan, USA

Between 1932-33 Rivera painted the Detroit Industry Murals, consisting of 27 panels depicting industry at the Ford Motor Company and Detroit. He considered these his greatest achievement. Together they surround the interior Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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